HERMISTON — Before tipoff of Tuesday’s Class 5A play-in game at Hermiston, head coach Juan Rodriguez challenged one of his players.
He wanted Jordan Thomas, the 6-foot-3 junior post, to notch 30 points for the game, however there was a small problem: she was under the weather.
Struck with the flu over the weekend, Thomas came out scoring just five points while four other Bulldogs split the remaining 10 of their 15 first-quarter points.
Then, in the second quarter Thomas began to use her height and physicality to drive to the hoop to notch 13 points before the break.
“I just realized that as I started posting up more that they were so much shorter than me so I just used my height to my advantage and just needed to go for it,” she said.
Thomas finished with exactly 30 points in Hermiston’s 67-40 victory over St. Helens to keep its season alive.
She was getting rest throughout the matchup. Often subbed out in favor of senior Maddy Juul, Rodriguez wanted to use Thomas in short bursts to help keep her fresh. After Thomas scored her first points of the second half to reach 20 total at that point, she was ready to throw in the towel. Hermiston was already up by 10 and its lead was growing.
“I honestly didn’t think I could do it,” Thomas said of reaching 30 points. “I was at 20 and I was giving up.”
That’s when Rodriguez looked at Thomas and said, “30.” Thomas responded with an “OK” and went on to score 10 more points — eight of which were in the final quarter.
“That’s the dominant force she can be when she wants to,” Rodriguez said of the game’s top scorer. “I was really happy. I challenged her before the game and said, ‘Hey, you need to score 30 points for us,’ and she did.”
Before Thomas started racking up the points, the Lions (9-16 overall) gave the Bulldogs (12-13) some things they weren’t expecting.
St. Helens freshman Maria Reardon hit three 3-pointers in the first quarter to help keep the score close after the first eight minutes of play. Reardon ended the night with 13 total points.
“We were going to let guards shoot,” Rodriguez said. “We were going to let them shoot and No. 3 (Reardon) came in and hit shots.”
Hermiston, however, was worried about a different Lion: St. Helen’s 5-10 junior post, Maddie Holm.
With the defensive efforts of freshman Paige Palzinski and junior Madi Wilson, Holm didn’t have free rein in the paint — especially in the second half.
Before the break, Holm had her best quarter of the night and scored six of St. Helens’ nine second-quarter points. The shooting spurt put the Lions within eight points of the lead, 30-22, but after the break a strong defensive performance was paired with some St. Helens shooting woes that allowed Hermiston to extend its lead.
Overall, the Lions shot a meager 43 percent from the field, while the Bulldogs made 73 percent of their shots.
Behind Thomas was freshman Jayden Ray with eight points and Juul and fellow senior Hannah Thompson both put up seven.
Relying on players off the bench, like Palzinski and Ray, and developing that depth was something Hermiston struggled with at the beginning of the season. But now as the Bulldogs gear up for the playoffs, they are starting to see the fruits of their labor.
“That’s what we have been building all year,” Rodriguez said of the team’s depth. “It’s just awesome to see their hard work pay off because they’re the girls that don’t get a lot of minutes but come every day to practice and work just as hard as everybody else.”
In Round 1 of the playoffs, No. 12 Hermiston will face No. 5 Silverton (19-5) on the road Friday.
SHHS 13 9 9 9 — 40
HHS 15 15 16 21 — 67
ST. HELENS — M. Holm 15, M. Reardon 13, M. Northrop 9, M. Flores 3.
HERMISTON — J. Thomas 30, J. Ray 8, M. Juul 7, H. Thompson 7, J. Romero 4, A. Green 3, M. Wilson 3, S. Stefani 3, P. Palzinski 2.
3-pointers — SHHS 4, HHS 3. Free throws — SHHS 4-7, HHS 8-12. Fouls — SHHS 13, HHS 13.
Contact Alexis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-564-4542. Follow her on Twitter @almansanarez.